As I’ve been explaining for a while, the key to understanding the long-stalled-but-never-quite-dead negotiations toward a major COVID-19 relief and stimulus bill is to ignore the sideshow involving tightwad Senate Republicans who really want to do nothing, take with a grain of salt tough talk from House Democrats, and focus on whether Nancy Pelosi can come up with a proposal so tempting that Donald Trump takes the deal and then imposes it on his party. By unveiling a compromise proposal last week and threatening to hold a show vote on it before sending her troops home until after the election, Pelosi let Trump know it was fish-or-cut-bait time. Her gambit seems to have at least initially worked, as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin returned to the table on Wednesday as the House prepared to vote on Pelosi’s $2.2 trillion compromise — a vote it later delayed in hopes of cutting a deal first.
And it appears Mnuchin didn’t go to Pelosi’s office empty-handed, according to Roll Call:
The Trump administration will offer Democrats “a very reasonable response” to their COVID-19 aid plan in an effort to strike an 11th-hour compromise deal, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday.
The White House offer will be “very similar” to a $1.5 trillion proposal floated by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, Mnuchin said in an interview with CNBC.
As you may recall, the Problem Solvers Caucus proposal, unveiled two weeks ago, includes two crucial provisions: a second round of direct $1,200 stimulus checks (which all sorts of pols want, particularly the president who is probably envisioning his signature on a new round of checks announced and/or landing just before Election Day) and $500 billion in state and local fiscal assistance, a little more than half of what Democrats have been pursuing with no success until now. The proposal also allows for spending some of this money more rapidly than was provided for in earlier plans.
It’s very unlikely that the Democratic members of the Problem Solvers Caucus would have gone forward with their proposal unless Pelosi thought it might be useful, and it looks like it has indeed revived serious talks. CNBC reports Mnuchin and Pelosi are still negotiating, though time really is running out for a pre-election agreement:
The pair will continue discussions as they try to craft an elusive fifth relief package that could pass both chambers of Congress, the California Democrat said in a statement.
The House speaker said she and Mnuchin had an “extensive conversation” and “found areas where we are seeking further clarification …”
Speaking to reporters as he left the Capitol, the Treasury secretary said the sides “made a lot of progress over the last few days,” according to NBC News.
“We still don’t have an agreement, but we have more work to do. And we’re going to see where we end up,” he said.
So soon enough, we will know whether a deal can be struck and that much-coveted second check can be authorized, or if instead further negotiations will await an election that could dramatically change the configuration of forces.